intensity intensity INTENSITY

Do you ever walk away from a conversation with someone—perhaps someone you are meeting for the first time or even someone you know very well—and you say (at least to yourself): “wow, that person is intense.”

My question to you is what do you mean by that? What makes that person intense? And how do you feel about that?

Do you view that characterization—intensity—as a good thing or something that you are not particularly interested in or attracted to?

Before you hop into the “well, it depends boat,” bare with me and allow me to clarify what I mean by the prompts (or at minimum, what I intend to mean).

There is a certain character in particular people you meet that is both HARD TO DESCRIBE IN WRITING but also IMPOSSIBLE TO NOT FEEL IN THE MOMENT. You know what I am talking about?

That character is a ferociousness of sorts. It is a “woah, this person is intense” emotion that comes to you similar to a pungent smell may come to you. These people you meet, it is not everyday, but you meet them and you FEEL their presence in some capacity.

This is not to say they are the loudest people in the room, always, but there is something about them that tells a story.

These people—and candidly, I would not exclude myself from this group, at least based on a lot of the feedback I have received in my life (more on this below)—are INTENSE in a lot of their interactions.

Intense people are not necessarily intense in every aspect of their life; for instance, they may show up slightly differently at home versus at work and etc. But in general, at least in my experience, there is a character trait of intensity that does apply quite horizontally to how people approach the world. It is hard to turn off. They have a magnifying glass of sorts that they can pull out any time and apply it to their subject matter. Said material could be anything, and is especially apparent when working to solve problems. It could be any type of problem, really, a particular coding problem or math problem or sales problem. The hammer in this case is intensity and the nails are all the things the person sees wrong with the world.

Now back to me, because after all, my blog == my egocentric brain giving my take on things.

I have received a LOT of feedback over the years about my level of intensity.

A lot of people, I think, use the term negatively. They say I am too intense. People say I bring a lot of intensity to conversations and focus extremely hard on objectives and tend to faze out other variables (such as the opinions’ of other people, often). The feedback I have received is quite long in this domain…about my propensity to react quickly and turn up the heat of sorts. To use overly direct language. To be too impatient. To be too demanding. To want things done too fast. The list goes on.

Thus, I return to my original prompt.

What do people _really mean_ when they say: “wow, that person is intense.” Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Do you want the person you work for to be intense? Do you want your leader to be intense? Do you want your partner to be intense?

And for me—what should I do with this feedback? Should I lean into it…should I become more intense or less intense?

It is a tricky question, and for me, one that I have been wavering on for years. On one hand, I get it—people talk in different languages and sometimes, they have a different approach to learning and communication and problem solving.

On the other hand, my gut, my gut has a relatively loud internal voice, tells me to lean into my instincts and intensity of sorts. Do not compromise. Do not lose. The gut’s core thinking also says: “no, these people do not have different ways of working, they have worse ways of working. They are not going to achieve greatness. You need to channel your intensity if you want to achieve that greatness.”

This is not exactly a judgement of other people—though why are they giving me so much unsolicited advice?—and more so a reflection for myself: to figure out where am I off? Where am I not applying myself in the right ways?

The pain I feel most strongly is when I am operating outside of my set of values. This is a breach of my integrity. When I feel dissonance between WHAT I WANT TO BE DOING and what I am doing. I am responsible for this, of course, but nonetheless it is an emotion I feel.

I am torn on this in ways. And then I read books, especially biographies, where I find a common theme. This theme may be apparent to me as I am projecting of sorts and seeing the world as a mirror. But the theme I see is how GREAT PEOPLE of history often approach life with a sort of INTENSITY that makes them outlier-ish in various capacities. (Lately, I have read quite a few biographies and stories about the history of inventors, scientists, and mathematicians—a common theme is the intensity and focus they applied to their work).

Reading these books influences me in a particular direction. And I am aware that being influenced by other people is very rarely the right way I find to make a decision.

That being said, I believe I have a propensity to lean towards the intensity direction. Especially because life seems more fun and interesting and important that way.

The problem, at least the one I continue to run into, is that a lot of people do not appreciate the intensity. They do not want it. They do not want to be told what you think. They do not want to handle the heat.

What do you do then?

Do you turn down your intensity? Or do you go find someone else to work with?

I would say that for the last several years, I have been coached and therapized (made up word) into believing the former. I have been told to tone it down. To slow it down. To give these people a benefit of the doubt.

My take—and I have said this before, but I find I need to repeat this to myself often for it to stick—is that this is the wrong thing to do.

My intensity can be a superpower. It can be the thing that helps me impact the world in the way I want to. It would be a shame to lose this superpower. This internal locus of control. This ability to run through walls and make an impact on the things I find important.

I just need to find people to match it. Those people are unicorns. They can match the energy. And channel it out to the world. They may need a fire-starter of sorts—that can be me. But they are such powerful and influential people because they can translate between INTENSITY LANGUAGE and “normal people language.”

They are magic workers. And that is how I find highest and best use.

The answer is not for me to “chill out” and relax. Sure, I can slow the brain down and save my judgements for later, especially with most people. But the world I want to live in is the world where I can find even just a few people who can match and handle my intensity. These people certainly exist—though there is not that many of them relative to the general population.

Accepting this—that these people are rare—has been extremely hard for me. It makes me feel sad and frustrated that this is true, but it is. I need to remind myself of this being a fact often. You cannot train people to have this intensity—they need to live it. They need to breathe it.

They need to see it in action. At the gym, I can tell you train with intensity, but until you see someone really amping it up, in person, you do not really see what it takes. You can read and hear stories and yes that will motivate you. But the intensity is that waft—that thing you FEEL in your bones. That itch to get shit done and do something exceptional with your life. You just feel it. It is the chip on your shoulder.

That is where the magic happens in the world. Diluting and losing that drive and power and energy—that is a sad thing for the world. And candidly, I almost have lost it before. Lost it because I listened to other people. People who do not really know me or my goals or my ambition.

Now, there are certainly ways for me to more effectively channel my intensity. And I do not need to share it with every person I interact with. I do not need to bleed my emotions to every interaction. I do not need to feel heard and understood by everyone.

I will say I bias towards not wanting to feel completely alone in this world. Some people—perhaps Dominique Falcon and Howard Roark’s of the world—are okay with this idea. But I am not. I accept that.

I need people around me who match my intensity. Otherwise, I feel like I am spinning.

I feel like I am especially spinning when I try to PROJECT my intensity onto other people, especially people who cannot handle the fire. THAT CREATES A MESS. But what do I do with this mess? Is the lesson that my intensity is bad? Or is it that it is being ineffectively allocated?

My answer for a while was compromising on the former…I need to turn it down.

My answer now, and I think more permanently, is the opposite. I need to turn it up. I just need to allocate it in a FAR more effective environment. I need to surround myself with people who GET IT.

IT is hard to describe, perhaps for another essay, but THEY FEEL THAT INTENSITY.

The priority for me right now is in finding those 3-5 people who can match my intensity and desire to do great work. It will take time, probably years, but that is going to be a big focus area for me. How you find these people is probably less of a playbook and more trying various things. Just existing in the world, and being yourself, your prolific self, is probably a good guide to building a magnet to finding these people. Working on hard and valuable things is probably another ingredient that will help you attract these people. Again, I do not think I need that many of them. Honestly, 3-5 is maybe too much. Gates needed Ballmer and that changed the trajectory of Microsoft. Jobs needed Cook. The list goes on. I am not on this list, yet, by any means, but I see biases that Gates and Jobs exhibited which is that they had a core belief in their heads about the way the world should work and they WILLED IT INTO EXISTENCE without much compromise. (Gates would often admit when he was wrong, he showed a lot of pragmatism in that way, but he approached arguments with so much intensity).

But people with lots of intensity ARE OFTEN TOLD TO TONE IT DOWN. And sometimes, they do, as I almost have. But I think that is the wrong learning for me. I think what has the potential to make me great, or at least give me the opportunity to do great things, is the ability to turn up the intensity.

Intensity does not mean screaming or yelling or being mean to others. It simply means FOCUSING DEEPLY ON THE PROBLEM AT HAND and being relentlessly resourceful in your pursuit to solve the problem. This could apply to any industry or any context—and certainly history has told us time and time again that the world is changing but at the end of the day it is the people, the intense people, who are capable of making changes (hopefully, for the good of the world).

Questions I am left with:

  • How do you interview for intensity?
  • How do you know when a person can handle it?

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